Guest Column: Fighting City Hall over the business sign ordinance

Photo courtesy of Ray Smith

By Ray Smith

Two years ago, I had a yard sign printed that advertised my computer repair business and put it in the front yard. It stayed up for 10-plus months, and I got at least eight new clients from this, plus at least a dozen referrals from these new clients.

After the 10 months, I received a letter from the City of Rockford telling me I needed to take the sign down because it was in violation of the city ordinance. I complied. In fact, three days later, I was outside when a lady from the city zoning office was driving by and she stopped. This was the woman I spoke to on the phone when I received the notice. She parked and got out of her car and introduced herself. She told me my violation was pointed out because of a call-in. She stated the sign cannot give the name or address of the business. OK. I removed the sign and moved on.

September of this year, I decided to try to promote my business, researching the city ordinances regarding business signs in a residential area. Boy, are they not only confusing, but extremely contradictory. But I found the ordinance codes and had a sign made up that fits within the code: (51-007-A-6 (f): That the sign shall not advertise the name of the business on the property but shall only identify services provided, but not including brand name identification (except for brand name identification for new passenger vehicle sales.) So, here we are, one month later, and I received a letter in the mail stating I must appear before the city council’s office Oct. 17 to discuss my violations.

Now, I drove around today taking pictures of ALL kinds of signs from: “We Buy Houses” and “Piano Lessons” to “Landscaping Services” that have all been up since spring and a few all year round. These I plan on using as evidence showing how the City of Rockford has already set a “precedent” for such signs by allowing these to be all over Rockford on a yearly and/or seasonal basis.

Think of all the “Weight Loss,” “College Painters,” “Avon” and “We Buy Houses” signs we’ve seen all over Rockford. That, by legal definition of the word, has set a “precedent” of acceptability for these signs, within the city of Rockford.

Included here is a picture of my old sign compared to the new sign. When the economy is so messed up that people can’t even find a job these days, every little bit helps. My business went from a storefront in the 1990s to part-time in-house computer repair.

But as with our state and federal government, the local city government, too, is trying to stop the working class from making any kind of money just to survive.

Ray Smith is a Rockford resident.

From the Oct. 16-22, 2013, issue

One thought on “Guest Column: Fighting City Hall over the business sign ordinance

  • Oct 19, 2013 at 4:03 am

    Ray, nevermind the ignorant pricks around Winnebago County: There are a lot of antisocial, antiprogressive hicks.

    I’m friends with a few computer repair individuals, and one who almost got his throat slashed on Broadway. So, I can appreciate and empathize with an individual who wants to make his services known. The former commenter makes the argument that supposedly those who have the money to advertise have the money to be reputable.

    That is an extremely ignorant statement on behalf of the previous poster, especially since I have years of computer science experience myself. However, it wouldn’t hurt to prove that you have A+ certification (if it’s still called that) and any other certifications, thus increasing credibility.

    Even the over-priced Best Buy Geek Squad assistants have A+ certification. They’re high school drop outs that LOOK reputable. It’s laughable. You would want to make sure you’re not defrauding someone.

    It’s not like you’re doing car repair, machine parts, or building furniture for people: I’m implying that you’re not offering services that disturb the peace.

    Actually, what I would suggest, is getting a bunch of computer techies and home businesspersons to speak up against the court. The Winnebago County is attempting to oppress you. However, I believe it is more fearful of opening the gates to any kind of advertising, thus a precedent being set would allow for individuals have their repair shops and other noisy problems that tick off the neighbors.

    However, instead of having the sign, you could have simply printed out a bunch of fliers and handed them out around a 5 block radius or so and perhaps gone further than that.

    I empathize; but setting a precedent to allow you to do your business, I would think, means that it in no way causes a REASONABLE disturbance to your neighbors.

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